Thursday, May 31, 2007

'They're gonna make a big star out of me!'

Coming out of that dirty Depression in the late 1930s a skinny kid from Hoboken, NJ took a trip to the Big Apple to appear on a popular radio show known as Major Bowes Amateur Hour. “Hey, this kid is good,” was the opinion of the good Major and others. “Voice like crushed velvet, he has, he has.” Thus was born, after a few glitches along the way to stardom, Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra as a major legend in the music and acting biz. It might be added that Frankie, for all his flaws (and they were legendary) was also the possessor of a massive talent.

Some have suggested that a thing called American Idol is the natural successor to the old Major Bowes gig. Maybe it is. Likely it’s not. I am in no position to judge since I have never actually watched it. I have no intention of altering that impulse to avoid it with gritty determination. Even the name is offensive. These are not 'idols'. It's an insult to the word idol much in the same manner that the term icon is regular defiled and cheapened when applied to some bozo or bozette who is the farthest thing from either an idol or an icon.

I am wary of fads. I am especially wary of fads that exploit a bunch of either moderately talented, or not-talented-at all kids in the name of offering them vain hope that they will become another Sinatra or, (gag) Celine Dion. Actually, I think it’s more (double-gag) Michael Bolton than Sinatra, with the odd bit of rap fakery thrown in.

So, as I say, I have never seen AI in its entirely, but you can’t miss the %$#&* thing even if you wanted to. It clutters up TV scheduling; it runs promo trailers every 10 minutes, or it comes in at the tail end of the hour immediately before something I actually want to watch, so I catch a bit of it despite my resolve to commitedly stay away.

What I do see is a so-called panel of really, really obnoxious pseudo-celebrities who have no particular acumen to judge ability in a performer, making smarmy, nasty, or downright cruel (who is this Simon Cowell prick, anyway?) judgmental cracks to kids with stars in their eyes and hope in their hearts that they are gonna be ‘big stars.’ One might ask, considering the pathetic natures of Britney and Lindsay, do you really, really wanna be a star?

So, do I blame the kids who appear on AI? Not a bit of it. Some of them might be quite good. Who knows, there might even appear a genuine talent some day. By the way, if you want to see ‘real’ talent, just watch a tape of early James Brown in performance and you’ll feel the hairs rise up on the back of your neck. And maybe there will be another James Brown to come down the pike. Maybe there will be another Aretha or Streisand. Probably not.

But, what a process to get there. And what a crass and vulgar bit of exploitation is visited on us all in the name of hideous commercialism and maybe some scanty reward for a few, rare, circus performers in this mix.

Say – that felt good. I haven’t indulged in a blogging rant for a long time. Now I can face my day. Say, maybe I want to be a star, too. Maybe I want to be Lewis Black.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Time in the garden earns you points

When I was a kid my father used to have to threaten bodily mayhem if I didn’t get my ass in gear and “Get out and cut the *&%$#@ lawn!” Likewise, to suggest that I do a bit of weeding in the family plot was akin, in my bone-idle juvenile mind, to some of the shabbier directives of Simon Legree.

“Don’t you want our place to look nice?” my mother would ask, attempting to appeal to my more sensitive nature.

“Why do I care?” I would shoot back. “It’s your place, not mine. When I move out I’m going to get an apartment and then I’ll never have to cut the lawn or weed the garden ever again.

I was thinking such things yesterday when I was cutting the lawn. I was cutting the lawn because, aside from the fact it needed it, and I hate a shaggy looking lawn, I actually enjoy cutting the grass. It gives me time to think and to sort out all the problems on the planet our world leaders seem incapable of coming to grips with.

I must confess, I still don’t care for weeding. But, what I do care for is our garden. It is the result of an extensive labor of love. It is the fruit of an exertion on our part to turn a remarkably boring and uninspiring suburban backyard into something kind of park like. I think we succeeded. We have a rose arbor, and a fishpond and plants that are going insane due to surfeits of TLC. I’m not bragging, but it looks damn nice.

What was once just a mass of dreary lawn and patio now has walkways, and fruit trees, and other trees and shrubbery that the birds love, and flowers that the bees hanker after.

But, it’s not just about esthetics. It’s about, if I dare say it, spirituality. Working in the garden eases masses of stress and puts me in touch with whatever verities I subscribe to. Since I am a product of nature, I like being attuned in this way. The world seems more right when I spend time out there.

I look over the fence and my neighbor’s boring chunk of lawn an a few untended shrubs and think “feh! Why do you bother living in a house if you’re not prepared to put some love into your place?”

Am I a garden snob? Yes, I am. I don’t think we have the best garden in the neighborhood, but it is a contender. Am I competitive about this? Not at all. All I know is that in a world of disarray, if I can establish some soothing order in my realm, it makes me feel better about everything else.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Messing about in boats

“I’ve never sailed,” said Wendy. “You’ve sailed, haven’t you?”

What prompted the query is that we were standing on a promontory on Victoria’s Dallas Road looking at the mustering of the hundreds of sail-borne craft that would be participating in the annual ‘Swiftsure Race’, a semi-famous (maybe even famous) international competition in which schooners, ketches, and possibly the odd dhow or junk, hoist canvas and race out to an area in the open Pacific between the southern tip of Vancouver Island and Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula known as the Swiftsure Bank. It’s a long haul and, obviously, entirely dependent on the weather and assorted forces of nature.

I was especially interested in the process this year because April, my friend and sometimes work partner, was crewing on one of the boats this year, thoroughly pissing off her husband since he had to stay home with the kids while she’s off gallivanting on the high seas. But, hey, that’s for them to sort out. I was rooting for April because she's my friend and I want her to throw more work (hence, money) my way.

“I have sailed,” I said in response to Wendy’s initial query. “I have actually done a fair amount of messing about in wind-propelled boats. I liked it.”

“I think I’d like it,” she said. “I like the idea of it being silent and completely non-polluting.”

“And incredibly expensive,” I added. “Not to mention challenging, and not to be left in the inept hands of the inexperienced.”

I learned a little bit about sailing at a very rudimentary level when I was about 12. My dad built a little sailboat called a ‘Sabot’, which was a pram-bowed, centerboard craft that we would take out on the nearby lake. I never got good at it, since there was nobody to teach me how to master such esoterica as ‘tacking into the wind’ and how to keep the goddamn thing from tipping over, which it did more times than I care to mention. Fortunately, I was a reasonable swimmer, which was a good thing since this was before the days of such official wimpiness decrees as mandatory lifejackets.

When I was 18 I met a beautiful girl named Dee, and she and I were ‘steadies’ for two years, with all the fun and frolicsomeness that implies. Furthermore, her dad had a sailboat, a beautiful 29-foot sailboat and I went sailing with her family regularly, and actually learned how to ‘crew’ after a fashion. Then, when she and I parted company, as often happens when you are young, my sailing days went into hiatus. But, the pastime never lost its appeal.

Later I had friends who owned boats, and after I moved to the Comox Valley I went sailing many times. One particular friend was a fastidious purist about the matter, and would never, ever use auxiliary power.

One day my first wife and I, along with another couple, went along for a sail with him on his lovely open 26-foot boat. It was a heavenly day, until we got becalmed. And so we sat. We sat and we sat, and no amount of argument would get him to fire up the little outboard he carried for genuine emergencies.

“I have to pee,” said the other woman. “I have to pee really badly. Can you put on the motor and take me into shore so I can run into the woods?”

“The wind’ll come up soon,” El Capitan said. “So, I’m not using the outboard.”

“If you don’t take me to shore I’m going to pee my pants,” she exclaimed, genuine urgency in her voice.

“So, pee your pants,” he said, unmoved. “You can always jump in the water when we’re going ashore and nobody will be the wiser.”

“No question why your wife left you,” she said, a tone of bitterness in her voice, making note our leader had just come out of a bitter divorce.

Anyway, the wind picked up and we made it to shore, and she ran into the woods to spend her urgent penny, and that was the end of it.

Since that trip I sailed many more times, and seriously pondered getting a sailboat at different intervals. I got the thirst again when I lived in England for a year and would regularly go sailing with a friend on the nearby Norfolk Broads.

I never did get that boat, but I must say that watching the mustering up for Swiftsure yesterday did put me in mind of that option. But then Wendy said: “I think we should go to Australia and New Zealand next fall.”

“Well, then, what’ll it be? A sailboat or the Antipodes?”

“We could come back by way of Hawaii and maybe we could go sailing there.”

Works for me. Then I won’t have to pay moorage.

Furthermore, if the boat tipped over in Hawaii, I wouldn't have to worry about the chill of the cold North Pacific. Only sharks.

"Or maybe we could go to Europe again?" she suggested.

Good, I think I'm off the hook.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Whither the little, busy bee?

My first wife was allergic to bee and wasp stings, and that was what kept me from establishing a couple of beehives of my own, even though it was an idea that appealed to me.

Well, in truth, there was one other reason I refrained from taking the plunge into beekeeping. I once did a tour of hives with a major honey-producer and learned the realities behind the business. They are challenging realities.

“That’s a lot of work, Dude,” I thought, though didn’t actually voice as I went off to write my feature on the subject of apian care and maintenance.

My primary reason for wanting bees of my very own is that they fascinate me. They have this wonderful little, yet harsh medieval society in which all devote their energies to the all-powerful queen. Yet, it’s fair homage in one sense, because while Queen Elizabeth may be queen of her land and the Commonwealth, and some may regard her as a ceremonial ‘mother’ of sorts, the Queen Bee is literally the mother of every creature in the hive. Now, that’s power.

Worker bees (females of sorts, but lacking in propagation ability) devote all their energies to gathering the grub, maintaining the hive and keeping it cool enough, and driving predators like wasps away as best they can. Of course, if demands are such that they use their sting, it’s a kamikaze mission since there is a strong element of seppuku about that ultimate sacrifice – if you sting, you die, but the Queen is saved. Long live the Queen!

Of course, the most intriguing thing about bees is honey. This is the only insect by-product we consume in vast quantifies. Honey is a wonderful thing. “Bee Poop” we used to call it when we were kids, earning a reprimand from our mother who deemed the expression “not nice.”

Anyway, bees of all sorts, from the home-grown stumbling, blundering bumblebee in their fuzzy jammies and so aerodynamically unsound that they are not supposed to be capable of flying, according to experts in such matters, through to the agriculturally-raised honeybee (actually a European species) to the fearsome African (Killer) bee, the little creatures do a stalwart job in pollinating everything we have. Without them we would be doomed.

In that context, you might consider a possible environmental threat pertaining to these insects, and it is a threat that will be much more direct and frightening than Al Gore’s much-vaunted Global Warming. It is, the possible demise of the honeybee.

You see, in North America, bees seem to be under threat. Their numbers have diminished radically, causing no small concern amongst not only beekeepers, but also farmers. Now, if you don’t think bees are important, consider this:

By Jean-Claude Gerard Koven

Last week I received an email from a friend reporting a sudden, devastating collapse in America's bee population. The message triggered an immediate unpleasant shiver through my body as I recalled the ominous quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.

And, in fact, old smarty-pants Einstein was quite right. If nothing is pollinated, then nothing grows. If nothing grows, we don’t eat. If we don't eat, we all die. Scary, no?

What is happening is that bees are taking off from their hives on their regular forays, but not coming back. Where are they going? What is happening to them? They don’t report back, and they never call home.

Speaking of ‘calling home’, some antagonists are trying to promote the theory that cell-phone use is to blame. I like to think that is the case, and then they’d ban the excessive use of the things. But, that is likely not so. Cell-phone use in the UK and Europe is arguably more ubiquitous than in North America, and their bee populations are doing fine – for now.

What, however, may be to blame is a nearly microscopic mite that attacks the bees, kills them, and is immune to anything we currently seem to be capable of throwing at the mite in terms of control

Damn environment. Screwing us up again. Damn us, screwing the environment up again.

Whatever the case, take a moment today to consider the plight of the busy, little bee, and plant lots of flowers that will attract them.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The elimination of an age-old scourge

I had the usual childhood visitations of chickenpox and measles, and a few colds and bouts of the flu, but nothing very much laid me low for very long. In that I was fortunate because some kids who got seriously ill in the 1950s didn't even make it out of that decade. It was also a time in which they yanked everything that was considered a threat. I was almost resentful that my tonsils hadn't been extricated since almost every kid I went to school with seemed to have been through that little surgical trauma. A tonsilectomy wasn't quite as cool as a broken arm -- no cast to sign -- but it was certainly a sort of mini-martyrdom that appealed to kids.

"Yeah -- I did the tonsil thing. It was brutal. Blood everywhere, but I didn't cry.


I was a bit resentful of my middle brother who came down with the mumps. When he got them, my mother followed the protocol of the day by exposing my youngest brother and me to him during his contagious stage in hopes that we would get them too -- in childhood, to avoid a later visitation of testiculus giganticus in adulthood. It didn’t work. I resented that. If you remain well, then you must go to school

There were, of course, more severe illnesses at the time. There were such things as rheumatic fever, and I knew one kid who had to take a year off school because of that, and he was left with a weakened heart and could play no sports. I thought it was kind of neat that he got to cop out of PE, which was a fond dream of mine. On the other hand, I didn't fully appreciate all the ramifications of a permanently compromised cardiac function.

By that point in history there were antibiotics, and that was a blessing. Without penicillin and other ‘confections’ the postwar kid population would have been smaller, no doubt. Yet, while such drugs existed, they were used sparingly, unlike today when so-called ‘superbugs’ have been rendered immune themselves due to overuse and abuse of prescribed meds. Indeed, I don’t think I ever had a prescribed antibiotic until I was an adult, at which time a doctor doing the prescribing asked me if I was allergic to penicillin. “I haven’t got a clue,” I replied. “I don’t think I’ve ever had it.”

As drugs were used sparingly, attitudes in my childhood were mighty casual about disinfecting anything a kid came in contact with. Bacteria were not a particular taboo, and I only remember being chastised when I was very little for two ideas that seemed like good ones at the time: eating dirt (I don’t know why), and attempting to drink out of a puddle in the driveway. I’d seen the cat do it, and it hadn’t hurt the cat.

Otherwise, we came in contact with a lot of dirt, crud and filth, and didn’t even wash our hands all that often. Therefore, I submit that my generation developed immune systems that were pretty close to those possessed by the strong ones who survive in the back-streets of Calcutta.

The specter of one particular illness filled every parent and kid with dread, and had a powerful impact in that less-sensitive time: polio. Most children in the 1950s knew at least one other kid who had been struck with the illness that chilled parents to the bone every time their offspring even got the sniffles in the summertime.

Summertime was polio-time since the hideous illness spread with warm weather, and public recreational spots – like beaches and swimming pools – were deemed to be the places where infantile paralysis beasties swarmed. Those concerns were somewhat valid, though not entirely.

So, we went to school with kids who had leg-braces, and withered arms, or were wheelchair bound, and we’d all heard the tales of even less fortunate contemporaries who had ended up in ghastly iron-lungs. In fact, the iron-lung thing was sometimes used as a threat if we, as kids, thought we might be able to sneak off to the beach.

“Do you want to end up in an iron-lung? What’s wrong with you, for heaven’s sake?”

“But-but-it’s summer. It’s the beach.”

“Go outside and play with your little brother and don’t let me hear any more about the beach.”

For personal, and for more far-reaching reasons there is much truth to the understanding that an entire generation of parents and kids would have gratefully kissed the ground upon which the good Doctors Salk and Sabin walked were they given the chance. Via their research skills a postwar nightmare was brought to an end.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Being the complete sum of all my parts

Thanks to Alie Malie for this (yet again) and for the circuitous route by which she got it. When I’m stuck there’s nothing I like more than a good questionnaire. It’s OK to pry when you are prying into yourself. Some of the questions were a bit inane, so I did the best I could with them, and added my own spin.

1. What bill do you hate paying the most?Car insurance. It’s big and it’s nasty and it also means paying money to an insurance company, and I hate insurance companies in general. Talk about a license to print money.

2. Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner?Many places over the years, but the last place would be in Grenoble, France back in October. It wasn’t even a French restaurant, but a quaint little Indian place with superlative food, candlelight and all the accoutrements of romance. Except maybe the sitar, OK? Not entirely conducive to ‘that’ sort of mood.

3. Last time you puked from drinking?When I was about 20. What a disgusting question.

4. When is the last time you got drunk and danced on a bar? Never danced on a bar. Did once sing ‘Wild Thing’ with a guy from Portland OR in a karaoke bar in Waikiki. He was on his honeymoon, too. Our brides were not enchanted. Mind you, this wasn’t my current bride but the one before her.

5. Name of your first grade teacher? Mrs. Hallworth. She generally had an expression on her face that would have intimidated Hitler, but she was a really good teacher, even if a sourpuss.

6. What do you really want to be doing right now? Making my acceptance speech before the Nobel folk. Otherwise, snorkeling amongst the sea turtles and tropical fish on my way out to the entrance of the lagoon at Tunnels Beach on the north shore of Kauai. Maybe one more thing, but I’m not going to say here.

7. What did you want to be when you were growing up? Well, first off, at about 4, I wanted to be a fireman because a favorite uncle was one. Later I wanted to be a marine biologist, a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a writer, a professor. I never wanted to be a teacher, but that was what I ended up in my first (8 years) career. I was a good teacher, I have been told. But, the politics and bullshit of the calling drove me away with no regrets.

8. How many colleges did you attend? One. The University of British Columbia.

9. Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now? I like the color, and I have to meet somebody later this morning so I wanted to look a bit spiffy.

10. Gas Prices? It’s all an exotic shell-game (no pun intended) and if we think the companies or governments are going to do anything about them, think again.

11. If you could move anywhere and take someone with you? I lived in the UK for a while, and loved it. But, I’d hate to be poor there. London is still my favorite big city and I am very familiar with it. Otherwise, most definitely Hawaii. Kauai is my paradise, but would probably settle for Oahu due to Honolulu and the services available. Kauai is a little too bucolic for a permanent stay.

12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning? I’m always awake before the alarm goes, and the first thought is: It’s coffee time, hooray!

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night? As always, have I done everything I wanted to get done today? The answer invariably is, ‘no.’

14. Favorite style of underwear? Briefs, Y-fronts if you will, in a multiplicity of hues. Bonus for being in England last fall was to be able to stock up on ‘Marks & Sparks’ items in that realm. They are the best. Even Princess Diana thought so.

15. Favorite style of underwear for the opposite sex? I’m very eclectic in that regard. I’m also a bit like Elvis in that I find basic white knickers quite enchanting.

16. What errand/chore do you despise? Paying bills.

17. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer? I have always volunteered and served on boards, etc. Probably always will. It’s in my nature, even though I always bitch when I’m serving on something.

18. Get up early or sleep in? Always early. Waaaaaaaaaay too early.

19. What is your favorite cartoon character? Porky Pig (I assume the question meant animated cartoon). Either Porky or Itchy and Scratchy.

20. Favorite NON sexual thing to do at night with a girl/guy? Conversation; good music; a fine meal.

21. Have you found real love yet? Oh sure. And I’ll say nothing more about that.

22. When did you first start feeling old? When I was 29. My 20s were over. I was on the downhill slide.

23. Favorite 80's movie? Was Chinatown a 1980s movie? If not, it will still have to do.

24. Your favorite lunch meat? Shrimp or crab. And, every once in a while I get a definite craving for good old corrupt Spam.

25. What do you get every time you go into Wal-Mart? Toilet paper and cat food.

26. Ocean or lake? Ocean hands down, but lakes are OK, too.
27. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual? No. I liked it so much, I tried a few of them. On the other hand, it’s all up to the couple what they want to do.

28. How many people do you stalk on Facebook? Absolutely no one. I’ve never even been there. Don’t plan to.

29. Favorite guilty pleasure? Spending too much on books and magazines. Travel is a pleasure I never feel guilty about.

30. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about? Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Oh, I don’t think I’d really be that ashamed about it. Anyway, it's all about Phoebe Cates, folks.

31. What's your drink? Used to be single-malt scotch. Now is café au lait in a French sidewalk café on a sunny day.

32. Cowboys or Indians? I don’t even know what that means, so I’m not about to go there.

33. Cops or Robbers? Cops. I covered the police beat for a number of years, and I have huge admiration for the risks to which those men and women put themselves for the sake of our safety. Sure, there are some brutal and corrupt assholes, but there are anywhere.

34. Who from high school would you like to run into? Probably Sandy, the girl with whom I was rapturously (and unrequitedly) in love for two years.

35. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now? I really don’t know. I usually play CDs because radio is so terrible now.

36. Norm or Cliff? Neither. They were both alcoholic jerks. The one I liked was ‘Coach’, but then he went and died on us.

37. The Cosby Show or the Simpsons? The Simpsons.

38. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back? Not having had anything more than a torrid yet casual sexual affair with the woman who became my second wife.

39. Do you like the person who sits directly across from you at work? I work from home, so I’d have to look in the mirror. If I did, I’d have to say that sometimes I like the guy.

40. If you could get away with it, whom would you kill? I don’t really think I have it within me to kill anybody. However, there are some people about whom news of their demise would fill me with joy.

41. What famous person(s) would you like to have dinner with? I don’t idolize many people, so that is a tough question. Certainly there are people from the past, but contemporaries? The Dalai Lama is out because I’m not a vegan. Actually, George W. because I’d really like to know what makes him tick; Margaret Thatcher; Judi Dench; Helen Mirren (but only if she wore something décolleté) and Condi Rice, because I’d like to see her let her hair down and stop being so anal.

42. What famous person would you like to sleep with? Evangeline Lilly, Lisa Kudrow, Helen Mirren, Ellen Barkin, Deborah Harry.

43. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purpose? Nope.

44. Last book you read for real?As opposed to ‘for false?’ I have no idea what this means.

45. Do you have a teddy bear?I have a very old rabbit with no eyes or front legs that an aunt brought from Blitz battered London after the war.

46. Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth? I have no idea what this means.

47. Somewhere in California you've never been and would like to go? Big Sur.

48. Do you go to church? Sometimes on Christmas Eve or at Easter, as well as for weddings and funerals.

49. At this point in your life would you rather start a new career or a new relationship? God forbid.

50. Just how OLD are you? Old enough to have seen Annette Funicello in her first training-bra.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sometimes protection becomes wretched excess

How many of you, when you were very young, got to sit in daddy’s lap when he was driving down the highway, and got to turn the steering wheel just a little bit so you could pretend you were driving?

Many, I suspect. And equally many, I suspect, grew up with family cars that boasted no seatbelts. Family cars in which you would stand up on the back seat during long road-trips, fight with your siblings until you were hit with the old: “If I have to stop the car and come back there, there are going to be some sore butts.” Excuses like, “… but … Janey hit me!” never worked. “Let’s play a game,” said Mom, attempting to defuse whatever carnage might follow if the misbehavior didn’t cease.

Anyway, I am only mentioning vehicular travel from days of yore in reference to a new decree from our ever-burgeoning ‘nanny-state’ here in Canada, which is directing parents to install kiddie booster seats for all kids under nine, or 4-foot-9 as the case may be. Booster seats? When I was very little my dad had an old van in which my place of posterior resting was an old jump seat tied down to the floor with ropes. The thing used to move around all over the place. Yet, I seem to have lived to tell the tale.

Don’t get me wrong. Our highways and byways are much more crowded now; vehicles move at a more rapid pace, and I suspect the quotient of morons behind the wheel has soared. So, such things as seatbelts probably do save a lot of lives. We likely were excessively cavalier in the past.

But, booster seats at the age of nine? Can you imagine the mortification? Can you imagine the conflicts between nine and ten year olds? Nelson-like “Ha-has” would be abundant. Added to which, it’s all a bit arbitrary, isn’t it? I mean, the height thing. What about really short adults? Would the Danny DeVitos of the world have to drive sitting in a booster seat? Or, what about the under nine kid who happens to have undergone a premature growth spurt and is 5-foot-3. Is he off the hook?

My point is this. We cannot be so excessively protected at the expense of all our liberties, and why are we granting the state the right to interfere at this level? I do not envy parents. They can no longer hit their kids, they can’t find a playground in which the equipment hasn’t been either removed or “nerf-isized”, they cannot buy fireworks because a kid was once injured by one, and so on and so forth. We should be wary of those draconian decrees all in the name of “protection” because we end up giving the hand-wringers power they’re not entitled to. They tell us it’s all in the name of our health and our safety; with the implied message being that we are too stupid to figure out things for ourselves. Well, if we are that stupid, maybe that element in the gene pool should be eliminated. We learn from our mistakes, not from decrees.

As a final question in this realm, however, I have always wondered this. If we are so concerned about the safety of our kids, and if we applaud such things as booster seats, why are kids permitted to ride bicycles in traffic? Why are kids permitted to ride skateboards on our streets? Why are cuddly ‘green’ parents permitted to tow their tots in those little trailer rigs behind their bicycles out amidst the semis and buses on crowded streets? Those rickety things are legal, yet we must have booster seats for our under nines?

Something is amiss in the nanny-state logic department. I’d say some more logical ‘fretting’ is called for.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

No matter how bad life is, it's still better than junior high

I live about a block away from a junior high, as I mentioned before about the incident with the boob-flashing lassie. But otherwise, as I watch the (non-exhibitionistic) kids on their way to and from school, as the term comes to an end, I cannot help but be transported back to my time in those grades and I still think to this day how happy I am that it all is over.

Is there a more detestable epoch in one’s life than the years spent in junior high? Before that time, life normally ranges from so-so to pretty good. After junior high life will follow the same hills and dales, but junior high is different and it’s hideous. You could be lying on your deathbed, racked with the agony of an unspeakable illness, but still muse through the haze of your morphine drip: “This is awful, but junior high was worse.”

Kids in junior high hate everybody, and anybody with even a modicum of desire for decorum hates them. With those rules understood, junior high kids do their best to live up to everybody’s worst expectations of their behaviour and attitudes. A stroll through the corridor of a junior high is an intimidating experience in which it is guaranteed you will see the most disagreeable situations imaginable. Do I exaggerate? Somewhat. There are nice kids in junior high. They just aren’t consistently nice, and their moods are more mercurial and unreliable than any mature woman’s most excruciating PMS day. Added to which, the girls are also beginning to experience PMS days. So, remember, especially in the current climate of pubescent violence, if you are taking that junior high corridor stroll, some of those girls pack shivs.

But, you can hardly blame the kids. Everything in their lives is changing, virtually overnight. Sweet little girls in pinafores suddenly become gawky, zit festooned and a foot taller than the boys. Those who want to remain as children develop huge and ungainly womanly tits, and those who’d wished to grow up and be stacked like gangbusters (they started trying on their mother’s bras at age seven) remain boy-like and suffer cruel epithets from the acne-festooned boys like “pirate’s dream,” as in sunken chest. To top it all off, every twenty-eight days (give or take) something unspeakable and hideously embarrassing happens and the more naïve wonder if it has only happened to them.

Mind you, kids of today are more worldly and savvy, and they also reach puberty earlier – like about age seven – so theoretically junior highs should be more placid places today than they were in my day. Of course, that’s not the case.

Boys undergo the same torment. They too either shoot up and look like they need a shave by age thirteen, or remain pudgy little boys with squeaky voices who are reminiscent of the character Piggy in Lord of the Flies. For the unfortunate latter group the PE locker room becomes a chamber of hell and humiliation, (and face it guys, you never really did get over the trauma of the locker-room,) while for the former it is a venue for exhibitionistic braggadocio. “Hey, get a loada this!” But, while speaking of such matters, those same boys (and all will become those same boys at some point during the three year period, if God and testosterone are doing what they’re programmed to do) will also develop monstrous erections at the least appropriate times -- like calls for public speaking in class. While this may seem like a matter of envy to most middle aged men (not the public speaking incident, just the spontaneity), to a kid it is mortifying, mainly because somebody is definitely going to call attention to it. Discretion is not an adolescent strong point.

Meanwhile, there is the voice. The macho lads will develop a booming baritone or even bass, whereas the rest will be left with castrati sopranos, fully believing they are doomed to wander forever sounding like a talentless facsimile of Michael Jackson. When those vocal chords do begin to break, they will waver between soprano and baritone, often within the same sentence, causing much mirth, even amongst those peers that are undergoing the same rigors. Well, it is kind of funny, no matter how compassionate one wants to be.

And, I guess that is the point. Junior high age is so pathetic that you just have to see it all as a big joke from the forces that have always shaped the firmament. Sorry kids, but you are just kind of funny at many levels. Fortunately, sometimes, once in a while, you remain a bit lovable.

Ultimately most kids, parents and teachers survive junior high. At the same time, though, it is one of life’s epiphanies and the lives of none of the players will ever be the same thereafter.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

I paint what I paint; no more, no less

This little exercise in egomaniacal self-indulgence comes about as of a suggestion by fellow-blogger and artiste extraordinnaire, Andrea who thought I should share some of my artistic efforts on my blog. So, with much trepidation (even though I have posted the odd sample of my painting over the last year or so), I thought I'd give it a shot.
I am stricly a hobbyist, so no hypercritical eye is needed to point out any seeming flaws. I am probably more aware of them than any onlooker. I love to paint, however, because it takes me away from writing for a while, especially when I'm feeling burned out, and yet it is still a creative endeaover. I have dozens of the them cluttering our walls, and Wendy most graciously accepts them as a pleasing adjunct to our walls.
#1: Indian Canyon rock formation -- Just outside Palm Springs, from a photo taken after an extensive hike in this magnificent park.
#2: Twin Falls on the Island of Kauai -- Young Hawaiian males in ancient times, to prove their manhood, would dive from the top of the falls. Some survived, they say.
#3: Tigh-na-Mara Beach -- A Vancouver Island scene about 40-miles south of where I live. There is a massive tide drop in the area.
#4: Lands End at Cabo San Lucas -- A familiar scene of the very southern tip of Baja, from a photo I took back in 1994.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Has anybody seen my old pal Jerry?

Quickie Poll:

Now that Jerry Falwell has finally left the metaphorical building, as it were, where do you think he's gone to?

Would you like to ultimately join him in the same place?

Name some others you might have in mind to be sitting alongside the founder of the Moral Majority right now? (hint, they have to be already dead)

What do you think he was pointing at in the accompanying photo? Was it you?


And then there was one

I remember when I was a very little boy going to the Remembrance Day service on November 11th at Vancouver’s Cenotaph in Victory Square. We went because my dad’s uncle was in charge of all the arrangements for the World War One vets. And there were hundreds of them. And there were thousands more throughout the country.

They weren’t all that old then, these guys who had slogged in filthy, stinking, corpse-strewn trenches on the so-called Western Front for four years so that corrupt and equally stinking European monarchies could maintain their hold. The monarchies justifiably lost (and deserved to), but so did millions of young men from 1914-1918.

Anyway, lots of great-uncles and my grandfather served in that war. I loved hearing the tales. One of my great-uncles would periodically have to pick out shards of shrapnel that would still protrude from his skin after having made a long journey through his lymphatic system. My grandfather still had screaming nightmares until the end of his days.

When I was first in the newspaper business they used to have a thing called Vimy Night, at which all the remaining ‘Old Contemptibles’ (as they were called) would lift a few glasses and remember old comrades. There were lots of guys then.

Then Vimy Night in a few years diminished to Vimy Luncheon, and then ultimately to nothing as the last of the Comox Valley vets faded into that “long-long trail.”

I only bring this up because I noticed an item in the newspaper over the weekend that said that only one World War One vet in Canada remained alive, and he is 105.

Now that conflict can truly become ‘history.’ So, ultimately will all others. Issues that seemed so vital at the time may or may not be resolved, but the people who go to serve ultimately are resolved.

My father and his contemporaries served in World War Two. They are old now, and their numbers get fewer.

I grew up during Vietnam. Vietnam vets are becoming geezers. How can that be? They went off listening to the Stones and the Doors, how can they be old? But, they are.

And they’ll someday pass from the scene, too. As will those in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not a pacifistic screed. Sometime wars must be fought – I guess. But, at the end of it all, you are still left with the question as to whiter it was worth it.

I have no answer for that.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

What shall we do about Barbara?

My mother died in September 1992.

With an impeccable sense of timing she shuffled off this mortal coil within a few weeks of the cessation of my first marriage. I don’t think she knew about my separation, since she was pretty much non compos mentis by that time. Anyway, she didn’t really like my first wife.

I am always struck on Mother’s Day by the fact that I have never grieved her passing. That realization bothers me – a bit – but not a whole lot. I have grieved the passings of many others in my life: grandparents; my father; friends, even pets. But, for some reason, with Mom, the emotion doesn’t genuinely exist.

Anyway, I have made oblique references to my mother periodically in this blog, but I thought today I might elaborate a bit more. Who knows, I might even find it cathartic?

This blog isn’t, by the way, a ‘poor me’ offering. We all have had ‘stuff’ to contend with and furthermore, I don’t believe in blaming anything whatsoever on a lousy childhood. We set our own courses in life with what tools we have. Fortunately, I have a few, even if I didn’t realize how many until I’d gotten a firm grip on myself.

Anyway, my mother (whose name was Barbara, and I’ll refer to her by name henceforth, and who looked a little like the woman in the accompanying graphic when I was a small boy) was an alcoholic. That’s OK. There are lots of them, both active and recovering, and I’ve known many, including some very fine people. But, my mother was an unrepentant alcoholic, and that is difficult to deal with. I’ve actually written published and well-received articles on unrepentant alcoholics, but in them I suggest no answers because, even in my years as a professional counsellor, none ever really manifested themselves.

So, long and short of it was, she drank herself to death and that was that.

Barbara was a very bright girl. Raised in an impoverished colonial British gentry family, and one of seven siblings, she was smart. She skipped two grades in school and could have gone on to a PhD if she’d had the will. She didn’t. Siblings accomplished many wonderful things. She didn’t.

Barbara was also very pretty, classy looking and speaking, witty, well-read, artistic and capable of accomplishing much. She didn’t.

She settled into some sort of ennui and seems to have lost focus along the way. She had three sons. I think she liked us. None of us is sure if she loved us. She never showed it in any sort of overt manner, like hugs, or kisses. She read to us at bedtime, tended to us when we were sick, and when we were little she was never threatening. She was just amazingly aloof and regarded the world with a sort of Mona Lisa half smile. Sort of bemusement and amusement combined, if you will.

My dad worked hard. He was a professional and gained a lot of accolades in his academic calling. He kept Barbara very well, even though I was convinced they detested each other. Their arguments in my childhood were frightening. In later life they settled into a sort of torpor in which he worked and she drank – more all the time.

I got to know Barbara best when I was in my teens. She introduced me to lots of literature and I began to read voluminously so we could discuss books. We had a kind of companionship of similar intellects, I guess. We were kind of equals, but not Mother and Son.

And then, by the time my brothers and I left home and she was left with just her and my father, the boozing got worse – and worse – and worse, and was eventually punctuated by hospital stays and bizarre 4 a.m. phone calls because the drinker nods out during the day in winter, awakens, and doesn’t know if it’s 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning.

And, eventually she died. We knew it was going to happen. I’ve often wondered in retrospect if an intervention might have helped. But, when somebody is in such a state of denial, I doubt it. She chose her path for reasons best known to her, I know not why.

I doubt if I ever will.

Thank you for your patience on this Mother’s Day.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dumb, dumber, dumberer and dumberest

Please understand me here. I am the farthest thing from being prudish, and I do not shock easily. In fact, anything that consenting adults want to indulge in of a sexual or naughty nature is absolutely fine with me. Party on and I hope it all goes well and enticingly. Life’s short and tension-filled enough that there is no reason we need to deny ourselves.

Yet, yesterday, I saw something that shocked me. Shocked me not because there was a sexual component to it – which there was – but more because of the sheer stupidity of a juvenile act.

I’ll admit that I grew up in that prim time in which there were ‘good girls’ who saved the ubiquitous ‘it’ for marriage. While I never bought into the concept, and was more of the attitude of “Hey, your Mom does, so why can’t you?” Such a crass comment rarely earned a second date, by the way. But, in that context I know that mores have changed and this is a more liberated and liberal time in terms of what is acceptable. Quite frankly, I think that is a good thing, within certain limitations.

What I am saying is that when I was young, females exercised at least a certain ‘public’ decorum. What they did in the back seat of ’58 Malibu was entirely another matter, but it was essentially private.

So, here is the scene that shocked me. I live across the street from a town park and playing field. There is a junior high on the other side of the park, and the school uses the field for their various athletic endeavors. One of these endeavors seems to be running the circuit of the park. Oh well, it’s good exercise, I guess, even if a little brain-dead.

Yesterday I am out on my front lawn, which looks across the street to the field, planting a dogwood tree. Kids are running. They seem to be always running. Two girls, about 14 or 15 I guess, are lagging behind and kidding around. There never seems to be a teacher or coach urging them to excel.

They run past my line of vision when suddenly one of the girls lifts up her black T-shirt and literally, bare-breastedly, flashes a car driving by on the street. I was a bit incredulous and thought, ‘How stupid was that?’ No, I’m not a child-molester, so it didn’t do anything for me on a personal basis. But, what would invoke such behavior? An excess of sleazy queens like Britney and Paris as role-models?

I shook my head and continued to plant my tree. The same two girls make their next circuit, and I can hear the one girl goading the other, whereupon the ‘other’ takes her T fully off and runs completely bare breasted to the end of the field.

That to me took the stupidity prize. There are creeps out there. We all know that. It might have seemed to them like a juvenile prank in the context of mooning, but to me it was more than that, and much more dangerous.

Wow, we live in a scary world, folks. Does somebody really want to make it scarier? What would prompt her to be so idiotic? As I say, the nudity didn’t shock me, but the risk she took did.

I toyed with calling the school, but what was I to say? “One of your kids was flashing her boobs at passers-by?” Whatever it was, it would sound stupid. Yet, I believe kids should be protected because kids make dumbass judgment calls, mainly because they are kids.

I’m still toying with the idea of letting the school know, but I’m just not sure yet how I’ll approach it.


Friday, May 11, 2007

On the road to where?

Children, if they have an ounce of common sense, and a realistic view of life and all its perversities often have ambitions to become something notable like a doctor, a lawyer (that is at least until they learn the truth about lawyers), a corporate magnate, a teacher, a chartered accountant (for the more boring of the tiny tots), or at least something that seems to suggest a secure, and possibly affluent future.

Not me, though. I wanted to be a beatnik.

By beatnik, of course, I do not mean hippie. When I entered my teens there weren’t yet hippies, and the world was better for it. Hippies didn’t bathe with regularity, spent too much time in the ‘zone’, embraced bizarre concepts like communal living (yuck!), had a lot of unfettered sex (not such a bad thing, except that unfettered sex for me would have meant with hippie chicks – see my earlier comment about paucity of personal hygiene), and generally ruined what otherwise might have been a decent counterculture.

No, by beatnik I mean a Kerouac and Ginsberg reading, finger-snapping, goatee adorned turtleneck sweater reading hipster. There is semantically a world of difference between hippie and hipster, by the way.

I read On the Road and I wanted to join Sal Paradise in linking up with Dean Moriarty and travel the length and breadth of America as a latter-day vagabond incessantly seeking the truth. Oh, and drinking a lot of beer and maybe even smoking a little reefer back in the days when conventional wisdom dictated that any consumption of cannabis would automatically lead the unrepentant user into a life of depravity and squalor as he became a full-fledged “dope fiend.”

Ironically, Kerouac spent his last years as a beer-swilling, rather pathetic alcoholic who live with his mom. Well, sometimes things just don’t work out in the way a ‘dream’ suggests they should.

Of course, I wasn’t much of a judge of what was good or bad writing at the time, but I thought On the Road was as significant as the Bible, or at least The Catcher in the Rye – even if it was a bit difficult for a 14-year-old to read and understand. I felt a bit vindicated a few years later when Truman Capote said of OTR, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

Anyway, a couple of years after that I went on a family trip to San Francisco; second only to New York as a beatnik paradise. Of course, I immediately wanted to go to the City Lights bookstore and hang with Ferlinghetti. And, I did get to do that (not the Ferlinghetti part, just the bookstore). And it was mainly just a bookstore, but it was still cool. I also wanted to go to ‘the hungry I’ but my mother had other thoughts on the matter and suggested strongly that we had to move on to San Jose to see my aunt and uncle.

But, I was hooked in a kind of day-tripper sense, and began going to coffee houses when I got back to Vancouver (which was, like San Francisco, slightly hip and welcoming of those who would break with tradition, and Canadian traditions are stodgier than American ones.) And, try as I might, I still couldn’t muster up a goatee of any consequence.

Eventually the thing waned, as such teen passions do, and I did go out and get qualified to do something respectable. I later grew a goatee, but by that time it wasn’t quite as relevant.

And, in some respects, I still have a soft-spot for the glory days of the hipsters. I was saddened when Ken Kesey (who was one of them, and arguably the most talented) died, and likewise Kurt Vonnegut, though never truly considered a beatnik, genuinely was, as was the late Richard Brautigan, and the equally late Neal Cassady (model for Dean Moriarty) who, zonked on acid, died having a toreador duel with an oncoming freight train. Cassady lost.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

This was my life, May 7th, 2007

I shamelessly (shamefully?) purloined this from AlieMalie and did a bit of tinkering and produced a few changes from the original. Since I recently did the 'interview' blog, I just thought I would extend the concept a bit and ended up with this long-winded (and maybe even tireseome) screed. Hope you enjoy.

1. Does anyone know your passwords beside yourself? Only my hairdresser knows for sure, and she’ll never tell.

2. What was the last thing you ordered at McDonalds? A hamburger and Coke in Grenoble, France (in the neighborhood shown in the picture). Nobody wished us to have un bon jour. They were aloof and borderline rude. But, they were French, so that’s kind of redundant.

3. Are you an emotional person? Sometimes I can give a chilly impression, but inside I’m more often a soppy sponge than I want to be. Still have a hard time listening to Presley sing Old Shep.

4. Do you like your middle name? Not much, since it’s the same as the name my father went by. On the other hand, it is the same as the last name of the character Mel Gibson portrayed in Braveheart – “Scots wha hae, etc. …” I didn’t mind that until Gibson showed the world what a Jewbaiting creep he was last year.

5. Do you believe in love at first sight? Yes, I do, and I’ve even lived to tell the tale. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s a rush when it happens.

6. Does the person you like, know that you like them? I hope so, or she wouldn’t share her bed with me

7. What was the last thing you did? Picked up the garbage can from the street.

8. Wherefore art thou, number 8? V-8? Eight-ball?

9. Who was the last person you ate with? A lady named Samantha, who is a former addictions counselling colleague, at lunchtime today.

10. What song are you listening to right now? Nothing, but ‘Counting Flowers on the Wall’ keeps running through my head. That’s probably not a good thing.

11. How's the weather right now? Wet and crappy. (It's nice today, I did this yesterday)The forecast was for sunny and warm. I detest weather forecasters because no matter how often they are wrong (which seems to be most of the time) they never get fired. What the hell is that all about? How many people have jobs in which they can screw up every day and still pick up their pay every two weeks? Mind you, if they forecast crappy and it turns out nice, I feel more benevolent.

12. Last person who called you? A &*%%#@ telemarketer.

13. Last lie you told? I never lie. Or, with deference to WS Gilbert, “hardly ever.”;)

14. Last song you sang? I don’t remember. This morning’s shower was too long ago.

15. Do you love anyone? Of course I do. My wife, a few friends, my brothers, my stepdaughter, even if she does do a piss-poor job of returning the compliment, and (what the hell) Lisa Kudrow. There, now it's out.

16. Lost a friendship over something stupid? A couple of marriages, but never a friendship that I can recall.

17. Last thing you drank? A cup of English Breakfast tea.

18. Last thing you ate? A bowl of potato and onion soup at the Union Street Grill in Courtenay.

19. Where do you wish you were? At Tunnels Beach on the north coast of the Island of Kauai.

20. Faked being sick to miss school? With much regularity. Fat lot of good it did me. Each time I returned the damn place was still there. Kind of a dumb question for a guy my age.

21. What time did you wake up today? At 5:18 a.m. I’m an early riser, what can I say?

22. Last person you talked to in person? Cheryl, a checkout clerk at my local supermarket. She’s a chatty redhead who rides a motor-scooter to work.

23. Last person who made you laugh? Probably Debra, my editor when we met this morning. We always have a good time slashing at asshole local politicians.

24. What are you wearing right now? Shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, tighty-whities.

25. What’s the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? You thought I was going to say either boobs or bum or something equally sexist and offensive, weren’t you? I’m not saying I don’t notice those things, but in a physical realm, I am very much a ‘face’ man. If I like her face (and it needn’t be beautiful) then the rest fades into insignificance. But, what really sustains me are intelligence and sense of humor.

26. When I was 26 I had been teaching high school English and history for two years.

27. Where are you right now? At home, at my computer, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this drivel.

28. What day and date is it? Tuesday, May 8/07, if you are going by the western calendar. I follow the Aztec one myself because I love them big old wheels, and I also love the fact they discovered chocolate.

29. Did you go anywhere today? Too many places to elaborate upon, mainly for meetings.

30. What did you do there? Met, of course.

31. What else are you doing today? Reading the paper, making dinner, watching TV, talking to Wendy on the phone, mainly because she’s at our ‘other’ place, which pisses me off, but that’s where her job is.

32. Are you watching TV? Not at the moment.

33. Are you mature or immature? I like to think I’m mature. At times I am. At other times I can revert, and not always in a positive and fun-filled way.

34. Who are you closer to, your mom or your dad? Neither, since they’re both dead. However, I think I miss my dad more. Not a whole lot, but just a bit more. I haven’t spared many moments missing my mom. Kinda sad, but sometimes life’s like that.

35. When I was 35 I became a newspaper reporter. My second career, which continues to this day.

36. What school(s) did you go to? Kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, two senior highs, university. That was enough. That was way more than enough.

37. What's the most annoying thing people say to you? "So, keeping out of trouble?" I hate that, so I usually respond with, “I would be but your wife keeps calling me.” No, I don’t really, but I’d like to.

38. Do you like music? Love it. All genres but rap and 99% of C&W. I make exceptions for Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.

39. Do you want to get married? I think I’ve done that often enough for now.

40. When I was 40 my ex-wife thought it would be a wonderful idea if she bought me a bicycle as a gift. It wasn’t a wonderful idea.

41. Where did you go on vacation last summer? Didn’t go on vacation last summer, but in October and November we went to France, Belgium and England. That worked.

42. Would you bungee jump? No. I have no desire to soil myself in public.

43. Do you like rollercoasters? Only been on once, when I was 16. Glad I did it. Never have had any desire whatsoever to repeat the experience. But, I do like the ‘idea’ of rollercoasters. I don’t know why.

44. Is there anything you wish for every summer? Vacation and sunny benevolent weather.

45. Do you use chopsticks? Quite adeptly, thank you. I hate people who go to Asian restaurants and ask for a fork. Go to Denny’s, moron.

46. What's your favorite meal of the day? Breakfast. I could eat breakfast at all three meals.

47. Thinking of someone right now? At this precise second, no.

48. Concerned about life right now? What kind of a moron isn't? Always. Too much. Especially about things over which I have no control, like which ‘joint’ will they be sending Paris to, and are the girls in there drawing lots as to who gets to have Paris as her ‘bitch.’ Oh, I know that wasn’t a nice thought, but it was satisfying.

49. Have you ever tripped going up the stairs? Hasn’t everyone? Worse for me is going downstairs and anticipating a further step that doesn’t exist.

50. What are you looking forward to this spring? Its continuation. Actually, its full-blown start, considering how unseasonable the weather has been this year.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

F-F-F-Fiction? F-F-F-Feelings??

A while ago I wrote about how rarely I read fiction. I thought, since I was an English major and actually a high school English teacher way back in the Dark Ages, that perhaps I was an anomaly.

Not so, it seems. A recent survey conducted in the UK among educated, literate folk indicated that while women devoured novels and works of literature at a notable level, only approximately 20 percent of males ever read fiction. Phew, that was a relief.

Male tastes in reading material tend towards the factual, the pragmatic, and the ‘true’ adventure tale. Romances aren’t very big on the list. Surprisingly, perhaps for some, neither is erotica.

I have, of course, read lots of fiction in the past, both modern ‘classics’ and the traditionals. Lots of Joyce, Lawrence, Scott Fitzgerald, dos Passos, Huxley, Orwell, and so on and so on. I enjoyed them all, and there was a time in my teens and 20s when I devoured a quantum quantity of fiction. But, then, it waned on me.

I think I have figured out why. When your average male is a callow youth, he is still attempting to define himself. He’s not sure of what he thinks, feels, aspires towards or even lusts after, so he seeks the interpretations of others and attempts to define himself accordingly. That’s why many young people are so tiresomely intense. I know, I was.

Later life changes, and the second part of my theory is that older males don’t read fiction because fiction demands that a guy must “get in touch with his feelings.” That’s a scary thought. Indeed, it’s outright intimidating. Some movies can make me weepy, so I sure as hell don’t want that to happen when I’m reading. It blurs my eyes. I also don’t want to be shocked. That was why I quit reading John Irving a few years ago. I don’t care which Irving book you’re talking about, but the characters will go on quite nicely and life will be working out, and then you turn the page and some absolutely awful fucking thing happens. I just hate that. It’s too much like real life, and I don’t need reminders.

Anyway, right now I am reading a novel. It’s a very good novel, called The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is a fine stylist and a terrific story teller, and I truly envy (even resent since he makes my paltry linguistic renderings seem pathetic) his elegant and highly literate style. I also like Franzen very much because he effectively gave the finger to Oprah a couple of years ago and said he didn’t want The Corrections to go on her list. Albeit not the best career move in terms of sales, but an admirable gesture in the direction of a hideously overrated ‘icon’.

Anyway, I began The Corrections about a year ago. And then I let it wane about half way through and returned to some non-fiction. That dragged on for quite a while, though I always intended finishing the book. Yesterday I picked it up again. I read and I read. I went to bed, and I read and read and was still wide-awake long past normal lights out time. That’s because the book was screwing with me. It was asking me to emote at a time of day in which I don’t want to emote.

Damn ‘feelings.’

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Monday, May 07, 2007


I brazenly stole this from Christina because it looked like fun and a rather simple way to start the week. Actually, I didn steal it at all, since her challenge was for readers to do likewise. I offer the same challenge:

Two names you go by:
1) Ian
2) Poopsie (only Wendy can use this)

Two things you are wearing right now:
1) Jeans
2) A T-shirt kinda thing

Two things you want in a relationship
1) Unconditional love
2) Intimacy (sexual and otherwise)

Two of your favorite things to do:
1) Travel
2) Read
(I could actually think of 'three' here, but was only asked for two)

Two things you want very badly right now:
1) For Wendy to get a good job closer to home
2) A big fat freelance contract

Two pets you had/have:
1) Griffin (very old and charming cat)
2) Murphy (my wonderful border collie who left the planet in 1987)

Two things you did last night:
1) Finally read the Sunday papers
2) Watched Cold Case (I have a crush on Lilly)

Two things you ate today:
1) coffee (OK, I drank it)
2) Toast and PB

Two longest car rides:
1) Vancouver to San Francisco (and back)
2) Comox to Victoria (not that long in miles, but when I’m here and Wendy;s there, it seems interminable)

Two favorite holidays:
1) Easter
2) Groundhog Day (means winter’s nearly over, maybe, and I'm a Bill Murray fan)

Two favorite beverages:
1) Coffee
2) Bisquit Cognac (this is a used to be, since I no longer drink alcohol)

OK what about you?


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Just don't scold me and we'll be OK

My wife was shared an elevator the other day with a woman who looked to be in her 80s, The woman was perusing a notice on the lift that stated something to the effect that: “Would residents please refrain from putting plastic bags in the paper recycling bin.” Straightforward enough, and simple enough, Wendy thought. But her octogenarian co-rider was having none of it.

“I hate being scolded,” was her indignant response.

Me too. I hate being scolded. And if you want to invite my compliance to anything, do not: scold me, lecture me, patronize me or in any way find me wanting in the way I do things. As a long-time master of self-defeating behavior, I will immediately turn tail and do exactly the opposite of what you want. I will rise up in righteous indignation, even if I agree with the point you might be making.

What can I say? It goes back to a childhood with a domineering father, and it goes back to countless hours, weeks, and days of misery in our public school system. I know my attitude is questionable, but I happen to believe in the philosophy behind winning flies with honey rather than vinegar. Like Elvis once said: “Treat me nice.”

So, it was my indignation about being talked down to by people who think they have all the answers to everything that pissed me off yesterday about the Saturday edition of the Vancouver Sun, that city’s (undeservedly) largest newspaper.

In a gesture of solidarity with all that is sweetness-and-light and oozing political correctness, the left-leaning editorial board of the paper turned the entire edition over to one David Suzuki who is, of course, a professional ‘scold’. A scold who does extremely well via assorted grants, I might add.

The moment the even more leftist leaning managing editor in her frontispiece referred to Suzuki as a “Canadian icon” I knew I was finished. I knew the entire issue was going to be a touchy-feely-doom-is-right-around-the-corner scold from one end to the other.

Suzuki, for the uninitiated, is Canada’s answer to that failed American politician, rotund Al Gore, who is doing his damnedest to look increasingly like Michael Moore these days, who likes to lecture from his estate that is the size of Reno, Nevada on how his compatriots are failing on the environmental front. Well, Suzuki is the Canuck version. The joke being, he’s not even an environmental scientist by trade (of course, neither is Gore), but a geneticist. So, that makes him sort of a dedicated amateur, right?

Anyway, that’s quibbling on my part. My point is this. I am as concerned about the environment as the next person. And, like many others, I believe the planet is in a sorry state – some of it by our own profligate behaviors, and some of it by quite natural processes. Natural processes, by the way, don’t always unfold the way we want them to. Ask this weekend’s Midwest tornado victims about that, and they’ll agree. But, yeah, we should do a lot of proactive stuff to end our wasteful and self-indulgent ways and make it better. I’ll even make some sacrifices in that regard. Even if I don’t have children and grandchildren, I adore kids, and every time I see some little sweetie-pie playing in the park across the street I know I hope and pray the world will be OK for them all and I'll do all I can to play a part in that.

But, you know, I am a moderately intelligent guy. I don’t need a Suzuki to admonish me and fill me with his view of the world and what ‘I’ should be doing. I’m doing what I can. But, once I am lectured, I turn mean. I want to go out and burn a pile of old tires in my back yard; I want to spray my gardens with herbicides and pesticides; I want to go out and buy the biggest goddamn SUV I can get my hands on, and I want to burn 150-watt incandescent bulbs day and night.

I will do none of the above, of course, but I do have a bit of advice for the green do-gooders that obnoxiously abound these days: If you want to get the public on board, treat them with respect and care and be as inclusive as hell. They may be part of the “problem”, indeed they may be the entire “problem,” but let them be the “solution” in lieu. People will rally to a cause if you don’t persist in telling them how ‘wrong’ they are, and if you refrain from constantly trotting out the sound-bite embracing, puffed-up icons as ‘authorities’ you might actually make some headway.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Here I am -- warts and all

I have spent the past nearly 30 years interviewing other people. Yet, during that time I have rarely been interviewed myself. Consequently, by a meme in the blog of Andrea (that artist extraordinaire) she posed the question as to whether any of the respondents would like to be interviewed via five selected questions. In a moment of curiosity, or vainglory, I bit. While I am a very private person for the most part, I was challenged by her questions, so I bit.

So here you have it. The questions were posed by Andrea, but the responses are mine:

1. Is there any overlap between your blogging and your freelance work? How do they influence each other? In a word ‘sometimes.’ For 20 years I wrote a newspaper column, one that actually won a couple of major awards. The column was similar to my blog in that I looked at the world/people/things/situations and offered my interpretation. I have also freelanced for decades on various subjects. So, when blogging came around, it offered me this chance for self-expression I’d always not only loved, but literally ‘needed.’ It’s something within me. Sometimes I have shortened and adjusted freelance articles into blogs. Mostly, however, they are original offerings.

2. You live in a promised land/bit of paradise but nowhere is perfect. What would you do to improve the Courtenay/Comox region? The Comox Valley is exquisite at many levels, and the quality-of-life is enviable. What I would do, however, is offer some viable employment opportunities, especially for young and middle-aged professionals. Opportunities are few in this retirement haven, which is a kind of Palm Springs North. And the level of pay sucks. Consequently, our schools are emptying out as what should be the most vital element of a community demographic is leaving.

3. Do you follow the rules? Explain. My goodness, Andrea. Whatever kind of ‘rules’ do you mean? For many years of my life I chose “men behaving badly” as a kind of romantic credo. Had lots of fun, but also had lots of heartbreak and waste of creative potential. So, no, I didn’t follow the rules at one time. Then, I think I grew up, so now, I do. It’s better. It’s calmer. It’s happier.

4. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t quite managed yet: Can I name two? Can I, can I? I have always wanted to have a book published. Not necessarily a best-seller or a big money earner, but just something with my name on it, and something that others might refer to from time to time. The other is to travel as much as I can and as long as my money and health hold out. Kauai is beginning to beckon once again, but then again, it always did
5. How did you meet your wife? I met my wife almost exactly 10 years ago on a sunny day trip to Hornby Island that was arranged by a female friend. She gathered up a group of walking wounded unattached people for a day’s outing. Wendy was one of those people. We had both come out of wretched divorces and neither of us wanted to get hooked up. I think that was why we clicked right from the beginning. We felt a wonderful and undemanding comfort zone within each other. Even though she is younger than I am (by 13 years), we have never noticed an age discrepancy. That must mean that she is either very mature, or I am very immature. Whatever the case, it works.

1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me." Cut me some slack -- it may take awhile.
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What an enticing retro whistle blast

“I declare, Miss Melanie,” said Miss Scarlett; “there are simply too many scalawags on this vessel.”

Looking like she might have contained some scalawags, and even carpetbagger knaves, maybe some dueling cardsharps, and Paul Robeson off in the background singing as he toted barges and lifted bales, the amazingly impressive Empress of the North sat in Victoria’s Inner Harbor yesterday afternoon, resting before she headed north to her home port of Juneau.

There was precedent for a sternwheeler to head for Alaska because at the time of the great Klondike gold rush of more than a century ago many resurrected riverboats joined the massive flotilla of craft of all sorts carrying the gold-fevered and greedy to the fields of instant wealth, or heartbreak, despair and even death.

The Empress of the North in the off-season travels the Columbia River from Portland up through the gorge and into the interior of the state and offers all the accoutrements that any riverboat romantic would ever want, from music, to games of chance, to sumptuous staterooms as “that big wheel keeps on turning” in its leisurely pace.

Anyway, when I saw it enter the harbor I head to head down and look at it close up. It was even more alluring at such a point of scrutiny and it reminded me of how I’ve always wanted to take the classic riverboat journey down the Mississippi to the Gulf. OK, I’ve always been a Mark Twain fan, and there is something infinitely romantic about the leisurely pace of such a journey.

Two modes of transport have enchanted me since I was a child, and they have never lost their allure. They are: trains and ships. Both are infinitely civilized ways in which to travel. Flying, on the other hand, has arguably become the most uncivilized and uncomfortable mode of transportation.

So, I thought at the time of my scrutiny, that Wendy might even be able to talk me into taking an Alaska cruise (I’ve always balked at the idea due to fear of cold and bad weather; a cruise in sunny climes, is entirely another matter) if we could go on the Empress of the North. It would be very civilized indeed. And, rather than going on one of those butt-ugly huge barges that pass for cruise liners these days; cruise liners that accommodate 80 million people or thereabouts, the Empress of the North provides berth space for only 200 and something. While it may not boast pools and spas, it would take the passenger back to an earlier, more genteel time.

Most of us in an age vulgar crassness could probably do with a shot of genteel. Right, Miss Scarlett?

By the way, this is not a shameless plug for the company that runs the Empress of the North, but if they would like to offer a gratuity by means of a free passage, I wouldn’t balk.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Behold the darling buds of May

“Ne’er cast a clout till May be out.”

Which means, don’t be doffing your jackets, long trousers, sweaters and assuredly not knickers – Britney!! – until we attain the first balmy day of June.

The only problem with that admonition is nobody up in this chilly part of the world can follow the wisdom of that other line of favorite doggerel for the beginning of this fine month:

“Hooray-hooray, it’s the first of May – outdoor screwing starts today!”

Actually, I’ve seen versions that utilize the more basic copulatory expression, but I was being polite here.

But, if the first of May is OK for the indulging in of alfresco copulation, how will we not run into conflict with the first bit of verse? Perhaps I’ll just leave you to explore the possibilities at your leisure – but don’t be shy about suggesting your solutions. You might just be helpful to all the red-blooded out there.

Anyway, after a long and arduous winter, we have finally attained May. May is, for me, a wonderful month. There I am at upper right reveling in the glorious May of last year. I am convincing myself that this one will be just as wonderful. While February is the liver of months, May is the rare, marbled prime rib with tiny little springtime potatoes on the side.

May is the gateway. May means that blessed summer will soon be upon us. Even if the air remains chilly at the month’s beginning, it will get warmer by the end. The “darling buds of May” are in fine fettle; the swallows have returned, and hope once again returns to a world ravaged by the darkness and frigidity of winter. April still fluctuates, but May brings genuine hope.

In many parts of the world May Day is held to celebrate the genuine arrival of spring, and for a girl to be crowned “Queen of the May” indicates that she is the most nubile creature of the village and indeed will soon be married and produce offspring galore as a symbol of fertility. The symbolism of the Maypole is not something I need even bother elaborating upon. But, after May, it comes as no surprise that June is the month of marriages.

So, for anyone randy of persuasion, this is indeed your month for self-expression. For others, it is the month in which you can gaze out the front window and quietly muse: “Goddamn lawn needs cutting again. I just mowed the *%#@ thing four days ago!”

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